OPINION: Should Voters Elect the Mayor?
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
June 27, 2010
Last month the City of Falls Church held a municipal election. Turnout was 24%. Next month it will hold another election. The turnout will be 100%, but only seven people will be voting.
On July 1, as is required every two years, the City Council will choose one of its members as mayor and another as vice mayor. The mayor will chair the many meetings and work sessions held during the coming term and represent the City at various public functions. The vice mayor will perform these duties in the mayor’s absence.
The selection process often requires the Council members to play a game of “Let’s Make a Deal” in order for one of them to secure the required four or more votes to achieve election. Some critics, including at least one member of the current Council, have suggested that election of the mayor might better be left to the City’s voters. Indeed, it seems inconsistent to continue the practice of a Council-selected mayor after municipal elections were recently moved from May to November, specifically to give voice to more voters. If having a greater turnout regarding Council membership is so important, why is it less important for the selection of mayor?
The counter-arguments are that those serving are best qualified to choose their chairman and deputy and that some deal making is an inherent part of the legislative process. However, deals made in connection with these choices may obligate members to subsequently cast some of their votes more on the basis of loyalty than on principle. There also is the possibility of the Council becoming less collegial and falling into two distinct blocs, based on the division in the mayoral vote.
Some suggest that the mayor should be the candidate receiving the most votes in the last election. That is a flawed system, however. First, it would never be clear if the voters wanted a candidate to be Mayor rather than just a member of the Council. Moreover, it would always exclude the three or four Council members who were not candidates in the last election due to staggered member terms.
Removing the mayoral election from the Council and trusting the choice to voters clearly would elevate the office. It also would be more democratic and probably would increase election turnout. As for the vice mayor, the other six Council members could rotate through the position in order of seniority, each serving four months during the 24 month term.
Such changes would require amending the City’s Charter. While the Council has the authority to take such action, the final decision in the matter should be left to voters via a referendum. Clearly, that is not possible for this year’s mayoral selection, and in that regard we urge the seven members of the Council to choose a person with the vision to lead us forward. But in subsequent elections, the voters should have the opportunity to decide whose vision they prefer.
The views expressed in OPINION columns are those of their authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of other Falls Church Times staff members or of the paper as a whole.
By George Bromley
June 27, 2010